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It was a little after breakfast when Madam Pomfrey had decided that my fever, which had deflated over the night, was no longer an issue and I was completely concussion free. So, after pulling a clean uniform onto my body, I was released from the prison that was the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey had informed all my professors that since my health wasn’t up to par, I wouldn’t be at lessons today. That meant I had the entire day to myself.

The breakfast I had been served in the Hospital Wing hadn’t been enough sustenance for me, so I decided that the first order of business was to get some more food from the kitchens. Not only did they cheat me on breakfast, but I found out after several attempts of capturing her attention that because of the potions I had ingested, I wasn’t allowed to eat for eight hours. You can only imagine how that bit of news had added to my already relatively crappy day.

In short, my stomach was about to engage in World War III if I didn’t eat something soon. As dramatic as it sounds, I could already feel the pangs of hunger racking through my abdomen uncomfortably.

Of course, I thought that I was being ridiculous; I couldn’t be that hungry, could I? Placing my hand on the thick banister, I walked slowly down the stairs, taking my time as there was no need to rush to my lessons before the bell rang. It was nice to see the corridors empty and not crowded with loud and obnoxious students. At the same time, it was a little odd. The castle seemed entirely too empty for my liking, so I picked up the pace.

By the time I had descended down the seven flights of stairs, I felt lightheaded. The world was starting to tilt this way and that. I tightened my hold on the banister, hoping that I wouldn’t go crashing toward the ground and end up cracking my head open again. As unlikely as it sounds, only I could achieve something like that. Because, you know, I just had the best of luck.

I stood still for a few minutes, hoping that the floor would stop swirling. Shutting my eyes, I took a few deep, steady breaths, thinking that it would help. It didn’t hurt to try. Madam Pomfrey had said not to exert myself too much because dizziness and vertigo were side effects of the potion when it had been pumped through the veins too hard and too quickly.

Once I was confident that I wouldn’t throw up all over my shoes, I straightened my shoulders and opened my eyes. Ah, no more spinning Entrance Hall. With a happy sigh, I made my way toward the basement, where the kitchens were located.

I hadn’t remembered the walk being this long, but then again, the last time I had been to the kitchens was in fifth year when I had been feeling a little blue. I can’t remember why, but I’m more than willing to bet that it had something to do with O.W.L.s. I always ate when I was stressed out, I would admit to that. And it wasn’t like I had a naturally high metabolism, but I wasn’t a walrus, for lack of a better word.

The toe of my shoe caught on an uneven surface in the cobblestone and I pitched forward. Luckily, however, I didn’t go tumbling to my impending doom. I actually managed to stop myself this time, practically hugging the wall to stop myself from hitting the ground. I really didn’t want another concussion, least of all a head wound. Those had to be the least fun injuries.

When I stood up, my left wrist was throbbing. I had landed on it wrong and a jolt of pain was shooting through my arm every few seconds. “Damn it,” I cursed, rubbing the tender spot on my wrist through the fabric of the sling. I couldn’t believe that I had done that.

Well, actually, I could, but that’s not the point. I was supposed to be outraged by my clumsiness instead of accepting, but lo and behold, I wasn’t. Merlin, this was starting to get ridiculous.

Ten minutes later and one wrong turn down a dark corridor, I found myself standing in front of the portrait of a fruit bowl. I had never been a huge fan of fruit, but if I had to pick one that I liked best, it would have to clementines - you know, those small little orange things? Unfortunately, they weren’t included in the fruit basket, but I shrugged it off. No worries. Reaching forward with a curled finger, I tickled the pear and waited for the handle to appear.

It didn’t. So I tried again.

I blinked. Where the crap was the handle? I was supposed to tickle the pear, right? That’s the fruit I tickled last time and the portrait had swung open. There were hundreds of eager house elves on the other side, just waiting to serve me. But where was I? Stuck out in the corridor because I failed at tickling. Either that or my memory wasn’t reliable, which was a distinct possibility. Merlin only knew how many times my memory has failed me in the past.

Determined to make it work, I took a step back and observed the painting. Maybe I was standing in front of the wrong portrait of a fruit bowl. Perhaps there was another one halfway down the corridor that I had missed. Or maybe it was down a little bit more. With furrowed brows, I shook off both assumptions. No, this was the spot and this was the painting with the pear I was supposed to tickle.

“Come on, work,” I whispered to myself as I stepped toward the painting and tickled the pear. It squirmed around a little bit, but no handle appeared. Stomping my foot angrily on the ground, my stomach gave an unattractive growl, something that it did quite often, and I sighed. This was just ridiculous. Now paintings had vendettas against me, too! Maybe they knew that I was coming down to the kitchens to feast mightily upon all the delicious foods I knew that house elves could make me. Maybe they were trying to help me rather than oppose me. Maybe they were trying to tell me something…

Then again, who were “they” exactly? It’s not like the paintings came to life…at least, not paintings of fruit bowls. Or did they?

I exhaled and leaned against the wall, my arms folded over my chest. Well, one arm, anyway. The only one was sort of gimpy. My eyes threw daggers at the painting as I stared at it, my mouth set into a grim line of malcontent.

I don’t know how long I stood in front of the painting, but at some point, someone had come strolling down the hallway and stopped next to me. Of course, being who I am, didn’t hear their approach and I nearly jumped out of my skin, squeaking in fright, when said person cleared their throat.

“Holy Circe!” I cried, knee buckling as I cowered against the wall. Please don’t let it be a Slytherin, I found myself silently praying, my eyes screwed shut and my nose scrunched.

A smooth, warm bout of laughter instantly made me open my eyes and unscratched my face, as it was a very familiar bout of laughter. Even if it shouldn’t be familiar to me at all.

“Sorry,” Sirius apologized quickly, despite the smile on his face. I had opened my eyes just in time to see him shove a folded sheet of paper into the back pocket of his trousers. However, I didn’t say anything. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Well then,” I said, straightening up, “maybe you shouldn’t have snuck up on me.”

“I highly doubt you would’ve noticed anyway,” he replied. “You were staring so damn hard at that painting.” At these words, his brow pinched together in confusion. “Why are you standing out here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be inside the kitchens stuffing your face?”

All right, so my eating habits weren’t exactly a mystery to everyone. Unfortunately that meant that Sirius watched me when I ate, which I was almost certain was a grotesque sight, as I have never been one to practice proper table manners; my elbows were always on the table and I rarely used my napkin.

“Ha ha,” I rolled my eyes exaggeratedly. “I would go inside, but I can’t.”

“Why not?” he prompted. “Are you on…oh, what are those things called that birds always go on?”

“A diet?” I supplied.

Sirius nodded. “Yes, that’s it. Are you on a diet?”

“No!” I exclaimed, my tone somewhat defiant. His eyes raked over me and I suddenly wished that I was wearing my school robes, so I could pull them closer to myself.

“Good,” he replied, smile returning to his lips as his eyes returned to my face, deep gray depths glinting with some unknown emotion. “You don’t need to be.”

I didn’t really have anything to say to that. I wasn’t one of those girls who expected compliments from anyone, much less a bloke. In fact, I never really expected anything from anyone, aside from Aunt Eliza, of course. I could feel the faint twinge of heat in my cheeks as I tore my eyes away from his and stared intently at my shoes, which were just as scuffed as they had always been.

“You never answered my question,” Sirius said, breaking the odd silence.

“What question?” I asked, not daring to look up from my shoes just yet. The good news was that my knees no longer started clattering together at the mere sight of Sirius, which was always a good sign.

“Why you’re not inside,” he responded.

“Oh,” I said suddenly, picking up my head, hoping that the faint lining of pink had faded completely from sight. “That’s because I can’t get inside.”

“Did you-,”

“Tickle the pear?” I filled in, nodding. “Yeah, I did, but the knob won’t appear.”

“Really?” Sirius mused out loud, his brow pinched together once more. He closed the distance between us and brushed against me to get a better look at the portrait. “Hmm, maybe you’re not tickling it right.”

“There’s no right way to tickle,” I said, rolling my eyes in annoyance.

“Do you really believe that?” he asked.

“Well, yes, I’d have to say that I do believe that. I mean, there is really only one way to tickle and that’s using your fingers,” I replied.

He chuckled, shaking his head to himself. “If that’s what you believe,” he muttered to himself, raising a curled finger to the surface of the portrait and lightly brushing his knuckle against the skin of the pear. It let out a little tinkering laugh as it shook before a bronze handle sprouted out of no where.

Sirius threw me a look over his shoulder as he turned the knob and opened the door. “Do you still believe there’s only one way to tickle?” he asked gloatingly.

I glared at him as he swept into a low bow, motioning with his arm for me to go first. I gladly took the opportunity, my stomach not allowing me to be defiant.

It had been a while since I had last been inside the kitchens, but it looked exactly like I had remembered it. There were literally hundreds of house elves scurrying about the place, carrying various trays of ingredients and fully prepared foods high above their heads as they rushed around. There were several almost collisions, but somehow, the elves managed to dodge one another before anything horrific could happen. The atmosphere was warm, not only because the ovens were constantly cooking and the stovetops were alight, but the all around feel of the large cooking space was inviting. Not to mention that the smell was positively mouthwatering. I was surprised that my stomach didn’t rip itself out of my abdomen in search of foods to devour, even though the nearest tray of scrumptious looking food was only about two meters away.

The sound of a tray clattering to the ground echoed in my ears and I whipped around, trying to find the source of the noise. Hopefully a house elf hadn’t gotten injured. Before I could even get my bearings straight, an odd sort of squealing noise was reverberating off the walls. It took a few minutes to understand what was being said - or squealed, rather.

“The Mister Black!” a high pitched, cheery voice screeched loudly.

Beside me, I heard Sirius give an almighty whoosh of breath as something latched itself onto his legs. I turned to look and saw that a small house elf was clinging to his legs, a look of pure joy on its face.

“Hello, Iggy,” Sirius said, smiling down at the small creature as he patted it on the head. At the moment, I still wasn’t sure if the house elf was a boy or a girl.

“Iggy is so happy to see the Mister Black, she is,” the house elf exclaimed happily.

Well, that answered it. Geez, the house elf must be a Legimens or something like that.

I jumped at the sound of a much lower voice behind me. “And Iggy shouldn’t be a-huggin’ the students, no she should not,” the voice said.

I looked over my shoulder and down at the floor, where a wrinkly looking house elf was standing with its stubby hands on its hips, looking generally foreboding, which was out of character for any house elf.

“Oh, I really don’t mind, Spinter,” Sirius said; he was still smiling at the elf that clung to his legs.

Iggy beamed up at him.

“Let him a-go, Iggy,” Spinter ordered warningly. “You a-need to get Mister Black and the Miss what they want.”

Almost as though she had been burnt, Iggy leapt away from Sirius’s legs and looked up into his face with wide, bright yellow eyes. “Oh no, Iggy is sorry, the Mister Black. She really is!”

“That’s all right, Iggy,” Sirius consoled as Spinter tottered off to do whatever it is that the house elf had been doing. “I’ll take whatever it is you think I’d like.”

“But the Mister Black, Iggy doesn’t-,’”

“I’ll be happy with whatever you bring me,” he said, still smiling. “I promise.”

Iggy turned her massive, bright yellow eyes upon me and blinked. “And what would the Miss…” the elf trailed off helplessly.

“Briggs,” I stated. “My name’s Eleanor Briggs.”

Iggy beamed at me, much like she had smiled at Sirius second before; in fact, she looked like she was about to attach herself to my legs at any given moment. I wasn‘t sure if I should shy away or not; I didn‘t exactly want Spinter the House Elf to reprimanded her or me. “What would the Miss Briggs like to eat?”

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to eat. A part of me wanted the food that I had been skeeted on earlier this morning, and another half wanted something tasty, sugary, and sweet. The scent of scrambled eggs lingered in the air and, as I sniffed, my stomach gave a purr of content. Well, it was obvious what I wanted.

“May I have some scrambled eggs?” I asked Iggy, throwing an uncertain look out of the corner of my eye at Sirius. “Some ketchup would be nice as well.”

“Iggy is on the job, the Miss Briggs,” Iggy gave me a mock salute before turning on the heel of her small foot and marching off into the throng of busy house elves who were preparing for the impending lunch, which was only about an hour or two away.

When she left, it was just Sirius and I standing off to the side of all the chaos. I winced every time two or more elves came in close contact with one another, carefully balancing silver platters and the like on the palms of their small, sweaty hands.

The smallest amount of pressure on my elbow made me jump in fright and I wheeled around.

“Do you always scare this easy or did I catch you on a bad day?” he asked, the smile evident in his voice.

“Shut it,” I muttered under my breath as I lightly pushed past him and made my way over to a table near the corner of the kitchens with three legged stools surrounding the circular surface.

I was halfway there when I heard him laugh in his typical, bark like way that I had become accustomed to hearing, even though I knew deep down that I shouldn’t. I stopped walking and almost immediately, I knew exactly what he was laughing about. The color drained from my cheeks and I felt my shoulders tense up.

His laughter continued as he stumbled toward me, grabbing onto my shoulder when he almost toppled to the floor. I had balance issues myself when I didn’t have another person’s weight holding me back, so I nearly toppled over with him.

“W-what the h-he-hell,” he trailed off, his voice lost in his outrageously loud and obnoxious laughter. I was two seconds away from turning on my heel and stalking out of the kitchens when he finally managed to sober up a little bit, to the point where he could talk, anyway. “Merlin, what happened to your-,”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said instantaneously. And my words were true. I really didn’t want to talk about it. The situation was still a little unbearable for me to handle.

“But there’s a huge-,”

“Sirius!” I shouted, several house elves halting in their work momentarily to stare at us. “Please, can we not talk about it right now? I’m really hungry and cranky and I just want to eat something before I lose my mind and my stomach devours itself, along with all my internal organs!”

There, I had said it. Exactly what I was feeling. I looked at him and suddenly wondered if it was the right thing to do. He was staring at me with a look of utmost perplexity, like he was trying to process the words that had just come out of my mouth. Crap.

“All right,” he said, running a hand over the top of his hair before he took a seat on a stool. “We won’t talk about it-,”

“Thank you.”

“-now, but I expect an explanation at some point in time,” he sent me a look and I sighed, taking the stool across the circular table from him.

Hey…speaking of explanations!

“Why didn’t you show up in the library a few days ago?” I asked with a newfound anger. I tried my hardest to make my eyes looking threatening, but I highly doubted I was very successful.

His face paled and he opened his mouth a few times, but not a single word came forth, only a string on unintelligible mutterings. “I - uh, well you see - um - I had to - er, well there was this - yeah, that and so…”

“We were supposed to find a potion to brew so we could write our essay on it,” I continued, my anger building for reasons unbeknownst to me. “Which is due in three days, mind you, and now, we’re pretty much royally screwed because everyone else has all the other valuable potions that would’ve scored us extra points with the Slug!”

“Well, you see, Eleanor-,”

“No!” I slapped my hand down on the table and felt the nasty burn on the palm of my hand as an aftereffect. “I don’t want excuses, Black, I want the real answer!”

Sirius stared at me, blinking owlishly, like he had just seen something that only occurs once in a lifetime. Like…Dumbledore waltzing around the Great Hall with a parakeet on his shoulder and a sombrero on his head. Although, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t put it past the old man to do something as outlandish as that.

I took a deep breath and added, “Please, I just want the truth. I promise I won’t get mad.”

He rolled his eyes, muttering something about how he had heard that line one too many times before. Pushing a hand through his hair, causing the locks to become more disheveled than they had been before, he said, “I was with Lucinda.”

I was afraid of that. My uninjured hand clenched underneath the table and my nails dug into the palm of my hand, which was still stinging, by the way. If it had been anything else, perhaps I wouldn’t be mad. But it was Lucinda, the reason why I would have to get all my hair chopped off because she was childish and put gum in it. This was Lucinda, the girl who was cheating on him with a Hufflepuff, for Morgana’s sake! This was the girl I was lying for, right to her boyfriend’s face.

“Oh,” I muttered, making sure that my face remained indifferent. “Well, I suppose that’s okay.”

“Sorry I didn’t come afterward,” Sirius said. “We only met up for ten minutes or so.”

“Please!” I exclaimed, holding up both of my hands. “I don’t want to hear the details!”

He chuckled and sighed, leaning on his elbows. “Actually, we had a row.”

At this, I perked up in my seat, despite the fact my conscience was screaming at me that I was being a silly little tart and I would end up pregnant by the time I was eighteen. I rolled my eyes inwardly and told my conscience to buzz off. Ha, fat chance of that happening!

“Oh really,” I picked at a spot on the table. “What happened?”

“Nothing really,” he shrugged his shoulders. “She was just complaining that I’ve been spending too much time with-,” he stopped suddenly and turned his gaze to the floor. I followed his eyes, wondering what he was going to say before Iggy had shown up with our food.

“Food for the Mister Black and the Miss Briggs,” Iggy proclaimed proudly, setting the tray on the table.

My eyes widened at the sight of the massive plate of eggs and a bottle of ketchup. Thank Merlin, she had remembered! “Thank you, Iggy,” I said graciously, reaching for my utensils and unrolling the napkin that trapped them within.

“The Miss Briggs is very welcome,” Iggy said, nodding her head. “Iggy hopes the eggs are good. Iggy would stick around, but Iggy must get back to work. Students need to be served their lunch, they do.”

“Thanks again, Iggy,” Sirius said as the small elf tottered off in the general direction of chaos.

Neither of us said anything while we shoveled food into our mouths. I had taken two huge bites of scrambled egg before I realized that I hadn’t put any ketchup on them. Grabbing the bottle, I popped the top and squirted a long stream of thick, red liquid on the top of my eggs, my mouth watering at the sight of the delicious condiment. Forking some ketchup drenched scrambled egg into my mouth, I let out a small, if not pleasurable, moan as I chewed.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed Sirius’s fork was no longer scraping against his plate and he wasn’t speaking to fill the silence. I stopped mid chew and looked at Sirius. He was gapping at me with his mouth half open and a mystified look on his face.

“Wha’?” I asked through my mouthful of food.

“Do you always eat like…that?” he questioned.

I swallowed what I had in my mouth and washed it down with some pumpkin juice, which I hadn’t even noticed until now that Iggy had brought for us. “Like what?”

He made a vague gesture with his hand, fork included, directed at me. “You know…do you make those noises all the time?” He peered at my plate and his lip wrinkled in revulsion. “And douse your food in so much ketchup?”

Heat rushing to my cheeks, I ducked my head before he could see any sign of pink. Blushing in the presence of Sirius Black was a big no-no. That would only lead to trouble and, by the looks of the current situation, I was already in trouble. You know, should anyone find out about this and I was praying to Merlin that they wouldn’t.

“Well,” he prompted. “Do you?”

I shrugged my shoulders, still not picking my head up until I was sure my cheeks were completely blush free. “I don’t know…I guess.”

“That’s really odd,” he commented.

“You wouldn’t say that if you tried it,” I said, finally picking up my head to look at him. He was smiling, leaning toward me with his chin cupped in the palm of his hand. I struggled to form a coherent thought as he raised a brow in amusement.

“Is that a challenge?”

“Only if you want it to be,” I replied smoothly, sounding much more confident than I felt.

With a bright smirk, he reached across the small expanse of the table and forked some ketchup covered scrambled egg onto his fork before shoving it into his mouth. A contemplative look flashed across his face as he chewed slowly, trying to decide if he liked the taste or not.

“Well?” I pressed.

He swallowed thickly and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s all right, I suppose.”

I laughed and gave his shoulder a rough shove that nearly caused him to fall off his stool. But he recovered, laughing all the while, and we continued to shove our faces with food.

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